In re E.C., 375 N.C. 581 (2020)

  • Facts:    In 2016, three children were adjudicated dependent, due to mother’s incarceration, which led to an eviction and other financial disruptions for the family at a time when no relative or caretaker could provide for the children. Mother, after her release from prison, entered into a family services agreement with DSS, which included obtaining safe and stable housing and participate in mental health treatment and parenting classes.  Ultimately, DSS filed a TPR alleging 3 grounds, and in 2019, the TPR was granted on all 3 grounds. Mother appeals. This appeal focuses on G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2).
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) authorizes a TPR when the parent has willfully left the juvenile in a foster care or other placement for more than 12 months without making reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions that led to the child’s removal. Willfulness involves a parent’s ability to show reasonable progress but an unwillingness to make the effort. Compliance with a case plan is relevant; satisfaction of all the elements of the plan is not required, but extremely limited progress supports this ground.
  • As held in In re B.O.A., 372 N.C. 372 (2019), the conditions which led to the child’s removal are not limited to what was stated in the petition or an adjudication order. “The trial court in an abuse, neglect, and dependency proceeding ‘has the authority to order a parent to take any step reasonably required to alleviate any condition that directly or indirectly contributed to causing the juvenile’s removal from the parental home.’ “ Sl.Op. at 8. There was a nexus between the mother’s case plan, which she failed to comply with, and the conditions of removal. Although mother, at the time of the TPR hearing, had suitable housing, her progress on that component of her plan was limited and delayed as she did not obtain suitable housing until one month before the TPR hearing, more than 3 years after the children had been placed in DSS custody. Further, the unchallenged findings of fact establish she did not address the mental health and parenting concerns.
Termination of Parental Rights
Willfully Leaving Child in Foster Care or Other Placement
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